David Wlazlo

The Austrian Question: Ian Burn and Institutional Mis-Recognition.


Recently a paper of mine was published in the third issue of the Melbourne journal Discipline. The paper begins with an account of how I came across the MoMA website listing of Ian Burn, an Australian artist who was listed as Austrian on the gallery's website. Thinking that I should correct MoMA, by informing them of their mistake, I hesitated: this simple mistake takes on particular resonances, as Burn was quite critical of MoMA's travelling exhibition program in the late 1960s and 70s as propagating a kind of US cultural imperialism. In many ways, I thought that by informing MoMA of the error, I would be participating in, and reinforcing, their hegemonic status as the modern art museum par excellence. My allegiances were split between respect for Burn and his opinions, and a sense of obligation toward the institution.

I presented the paper at the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand (AAANZ) conference in Wellington, NZ (2011). Since then, MoMA have updated their records.

Jess Hood's 'Still Turning' catalogue essay.

I wrote a catalogue essay for Jess Hood's exhibition at Screen Space in 2011. Click the link below to view the PDF for a full colour version, with response by Jess, as well as the images we refer to in the texts.

The exhibition itself featured an automated slide-show (analogue transparencies in a carousel) of a hand extending a bunch of flowers from the bottom of the frame. Offering these flowers to the garden where the work was shot, each slide alternated focus on either the offering or the background as the camera panned in a circle

Image courtesy of Screen Space.

Full Catalogue from Screen Space:

Someone handed me a picture and said, "This is a picture of me when I was younger." Every picture of you is when you were younger. 
– Mitch Hedberg

Dear Jess,

I'm responding to the four photographs you gave me, rather than Still Turning directly, but I think that even in doing this, the displacement involved reflects what is going on in this piece. Offered up like hor d'oeuvres, these four images don't seem to constitute a work in themselves. They are either before a work or after, or otherwise outside the work which is Still Turning. These four title-less images constitute a form of grouping, and even though they are out of the sequence of Still Turning, a similar idea of temporality appears and structures them.  These four images suddenly interrelate, either through similar features or the lack thereof, in a way which provides ground for questioning the assurance which forms a sequence of the images in Still Turning. They are now four, and can be arranged in two groups of two.

Two of the images seem to break away from the others. These two feature a garden bed arranged with red flowers, and a slightly out of focus fountain at what could be the centre of the bed. These two images couple themselves to each other through their similar content: the horizon of red flowers, the figure of the fountain, the lawn. It's tempting to say that these images are of the same place, they were taken of the same thing, or even two views of the same thing. However this genealogy of the image is not at all clear, and questions that are never answered by the image alone come into focus: who took these images, and of what? Where and when were they taken? These questions are impossible to resolve, and the image needs to point outside of itself to ask them. Answers to these questions would give the clarity of focus to my interpretation, but they remain blurry.

The other two images are harder to group. One has a series of hanging planters in front of some green shade-cloth, and the other of these is a full-frame shot of leaves. The hanging planters carry the mark of seriality, of the sequence, which infects Still Turning, although here in these images the seriality is not activated, just passively dangling. The second image from this group is a full frame of leaves, with a blur across it. The leaves are in focus, and something seems to be hidden in plain sight in the centre, like a blurry figure. In your piece for exhibition, the hand held forth with a flower is in a gesture of a gift, but also in the gesture of the figure, both yours (in the form of your hand) and the figure against the ground. The focus is alternately set to the hand or the background, and each image overlaps with the previous and next in a lateral movement which is given depth through this oscillation of focus. Focus is here given to the background like a gift, which takes it, holds it, then returns it in another image. This movement activates each image as an individual moving toward another image, outside itself.

For me, the garden in your photographs precludes the questions of when, where, what and whom, questions which photography seems to ask. The garden is planted, grown, and its arrival is waited for. It points to the present but also to the future. The garden has a different kind of temporality than photography, but both temporalities have a quality of referring to the 'other than now'. What if these are images pointing to a garden of the future? Out of the blur, be it literal or metaphoric (and metaphor perhaps is a blur itself, or even a smudge) comes an orientation to the future, the becoming past of the image, which is always happening, and will always happen into the future.

See you soon,

David Wlazlo

Impact 7 Printmaking Conference

Recently I presented a paper at the printmaking conference Impact 7 (http://impact7.org.au/), held at Monash University, Caulfield, Australia.

The paper was detailing how the introductory editorial of the Art -- Language journal from 1969, published by the collaborative conceptual art group 'Art & Language' (A&L), could be read in relation to a theory of literature and the literary outlined by Jacques Derrida in This Strange Institution Called Literature, an interview published in Acts of Literature.

I wrote the paper almost a year ago, and there are some things I would do differently if I had to re-write it now. Firstly, there is an oblique reference to a comment attributed to Mel Ramsden in Charles Green's book The Third Hand. This comment is presented 'as quoted' by Melbourne curator Bruce Pollard, where Ramsden is recalled saying that A&L texts were meant to be "skim read", as opposed to read with concentration.

After reading a review of this book by Ann Stephen, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art in 2002 (Vol. 2/3, No. 2/1, 2002: 245-249.), I realised that this statement can be read in a number of different ways, and is possibly used strategically by Green to favour a particular reading of A&L's work. In any case, the remark was kind of flippant and something I could have avoided using.

Another element I would change in hindsight would be the part concerning Charles Harrison and his complex categorisation of "artist's writing" as non-literary. This is a very complicated position for Harrison and I probably didn't do this complexity justice, and as a topic is probably worth a thesis on its own.

That being said, I am glad I wrote the paper and presented it. I am attaching it here as a PDF:


Abstract: This paper examines the early work of the collaborative group Art
& Language (A&L), particularly their 1969 Editorial Introduction
to the first issue of their self-published journal Art ' Language. 
Reading through Jacques Derrida's text This Strange Institution Called
Literature, this paper examines the work of A&L in relation to a
principle of literature outlined by Derrida which grants the literary
the power to say anything and everything, while simultaneously
allowing anything said to be dismissed as fiction. This paper
discusses this principle in relation to A&L's particular
interpretation of the conceptual art movement, and relates it to
recent attempts to historicise the conceptual art movement which
valorise modes of institutional critique at the expense of other, more
self-reflective conceptual art practices.

Tamsin Green - 'to and from the end of the world' - Conical

This is a review I wrote of Tamsin Green's 2010 exhibition at Conical, Fitzroy. Among other things, what struck me about her work was the way it was performative while remaining un-spectacular and understated about this performativity.

Tamsin Green

To and from the end of the world

Conical Fitzroy

27 February – 27 March 2010


Tamsin Green

To the end of the world 2010

medium format photograph, Dibond mount

30.5 x 30.5 cm

image courtesy the artist


Tamsin Green

From the end of the world 2010

medium format photograph, Dibond mount

Image courtesy the artist

The work by Tamsin Green at Conical in March, entitled to and from the end of the world, features two type-C photographs, in identical square format, facing each other across the room. The photographs are quite atmospheric: one shows a nocturnal coastline from the sea, with searching torchlight coming from the bottom of the frame, and the other shows a light out on the dark water as seen from the beach.

These images at first appear as atmospheric photographs. However, the acknowledgement of a kayak hire company in the artist’s statement points at something closer to the documentation of a performance. How were these images achieved? To take photographs 'to and from the end of the world' seems an act of containment, of bracketing the 'end' and the 'world' in question. Is Green presenting images of the limits of a particular coastal world, or documenting an attempt to map the horizon using light? A tension operates here between the atmospheric and the documentary, engaged with light as a signal of truth. Documentary photography's relation to light as truth is brought into question, and the fact that this is played out against the sea at night is no accident. If truth has a historical metaphor in light and reason, then the converse to this is darkness, the irrational, and, via a historical connection between the moon, the tides and the menstrual cycle, the feminine emerges among this problematic discourse. Green seems to be connecting the way light, gender and the sea are constructed symbolically in relation to photography, documentation and truth. For documentation to appear as such, then light must appear also, and along with it this naturalizing discourse of oppositions.

The procedure of these images, to signal from the horizon, can only be performed as a kind of necessary failure, for were it to succeed the signal would not be received by the camera on shore. Green's work spins around the axes of the document as truth, the light as truth, the document as its own horizon, and the horizon as true limit of the true. If we take Green's photographs literally, as a documentation of necessary failure, the performance to signal from the horizon fails in order for the documentation to succeed. The association of impossibility with failure shows that this necessary failure is only for a discourse that demands logical coherence. This is not to suggest that this work is somehow 'other' to the discourse of the horizon, but rather stresses the contingency of this discourse upon its remainders: that is to say, the atmospheric comes out of the document, and the light doesn't have to travel very far to lose its symbolic power. Green's work on the impossible shows that for every horizon, for every 'light within' engendering perspective, there is a remainder that disappears.